It is commonly acknowledged that college students often make poor decisions while away at school; however, according to ValuePenguin's latest survey, college students not only frequently engage in high-risk, and often life threatening, behaviors but also are often unprepared to deal with the consequences.

Key findings

  • While many college students admit to texting while driving (47%), neglecting to wear a seat belt (37%) and driving under the influence of recreational drugs (18%), 28% don't know the name of their health insurance provider and more than half don't know how to file a claim with their auto insurer.
  • Approximately a third of college students have passed out from drinking alcohol, with nearly a quarter having passed out in the past year alone. However, almost a fifth of college students are not confident they know what to do if they need medical attention while at school.
  • And while nearly one in 10 college students in our survey admits to stealing from another student (suggesting up to two million students nationally participate in theft while pursuing their degrees), most students do not carry renters insurance.

Driving dangerously

Many college students risk their health and well-being with unsafe driving practices and drug and alcohol abuse.

From failing to wear a seat belt to driving under the influence, college students frequently engage in high-risk behaviors. In fact, nearly one of every two college students admits to having texted and driven, and 37% to failing to wear a seat belt in the last 12 months.

Such behavior is concerning given that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attributed 3,166 deaths to distracted driving in the most recent year for which data was available.

Additionally, more than one in ten college students has driven under the influence of alcohol. Although a small share of college students drink and drive, the ramifications are deadly. The NHTSA estimates that one person dies every 48 minutes in the United States due to drinking and driving. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that more than 1,500 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries, including DUI fatalities.

This graph identifies the high-risk driving behaviors of college students.

Despite the risk of car accidents with these high-risk behaviors, more than half of college students (53%) don't know how to file a claim with their insurer in the event of a car accident.

The lack of awareness of critical financial information, including their personal insurance details, could prevent college students from getting and paying for adequate medical care in the event of an accident.

Substance use and other health risks

High-risk behavior among college students, however, is not limited to driving practices. In the past year alone:

  • Nearly a quarter of college students have passed out from drinking alcohol.
  • More than a fifth have taken prescription drugs to help them study.
  • Thirty-eight percent have had sexual intercourse without a condom.

Each of these practices risks physical harm as well as susceptibility to many types of illness, including addiction, depression and sexually transmitted diseases.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly 10% of full-time college students suffer from alcohol use disorder. Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that up to 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape, annually.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes that young people are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted infections, as the 15-24 age group accounts for nearly half of new gonorrhea cases and almost two-thirds of new chlamydia cases every year.

While the public health concerns associated with such practices are widely known, most college students indicate that it is easy for them to obtain alcohol or find recreational drugs.

This graph identifies how easy it is for college students to obtain drugs and alcohol.

Unprepared to seek medical assistance

The National Center for Education Statistics notes that there are currently nearly 20 million students enrolled in a college or university. The survey data thus suggests that millions of college students are not adequately prepared to deal with an adverse health event or seek proper care when in need.

Despite college students' easy access to drugs and alcohol, a large number of students remains unprepared for an adverse medical event or accident.

A third of college students don't carry their insurance information in their wallet, and 28% cannot name their health insurance provider.

The lack of health care readiness extends further, as:

  • Eighteen percent of college students are not confident they can find medical attention when they need it.
  • Twenty-one percent don't know where to get help when they feel depressed.

Limited financial readiness

In addition to the public health concerns associated with college students' behavior, many reported precarious financial conditions.

Of particular concern is the behavior of students who receive financial assistance to pay for their education. The Federal Reserve estimates that more than $1.3 trillion student loan debt remains outstanding, and that more than half of college students last year used student loans to pay for their education.

Yet college students' financial security also extends to their living conditions. Nearly 10% of college students admitted stealing from another student, while a fifth expressed feeling unsafe in their living situation. In particular:

  • Eleven percent of male college students reported stealing from a peer, while only 8% of female college students reported doing so.
  • Twenty-three percent of male college students expressed feeling unsafe in their living situation compared to 18% of female college students.

Research from the National Center of Education Statistics supports our survey data with estimates of 8.1 burglaries per 10,000 full-time college students, or roughly 12,000 burglaries annually.

Despite apparent theft and feelings of insecurity at home, only 34% of college students reported having renters insurance. Similarly, only a third of students indicated that their electronics, including laptops and other devices, were insured.

And while most students lack insurance, 66% said it would cost well over $2,000 to replace all of their personal belongings at school. In fact, nearly one in 10 estimated their personal belongings are worth more than $10,000.


ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 862 college students, ages 18-25. The survey was fielded at the end of 2019.

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